Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

NASCAR Xfinity Series to use composite body for three races this season

Leave a comment

NASCAR Xfinity teams will be allowed to use a flange-fit composite body for races at Richmond, Dover and Phoenix, series officials announced Wednesday.

The announcement is part of NASCAR’s move toward the composite body, which series officials said could provide cost savings for teams. The composite body can be used in 2018 for all races except superspeedway events. Series officials plan to make composite bodies mandatory for all Xfinity races in 2019.

Whether this will transfer to Cup remains to be seen.

“Right now we’re 100 percent focused on the success of this body in Xfinity,’’ said Brett Bodine, senior director of R&D at NASCAR, during a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll certainly learn about the performance of the body and the durability, and certainly always look at potentially moving things into other series, but currently we are just worried about Xfinity.’’

The composite body has 13 separate panels that attach together on flanges. Bodine said several body panels have security features to prevent teams from tampering with them to gain an advantage.

The body panels come from Five Star RaceCar Bodies in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.

NASCAR said the inspection process won’t change for teams with the composite body.

If a car crashes during practice, repairs to the car body should be easier, NASCAR states.

“Say you damage a right rear quarterpanel,’’ Bodine said. “It can be easily unbolted from the other body panels and from the chassis and another one can be bolted on in its place. And not only at a race event weekend, but that is how we envision this repair process taking place after an event. The turnaround time for a team that might have received damage at an event should be significantly reduced by the fact that these panels can be unbolted and a new one put on.’’

Wayne Auton, Xfinity Series managing director, said that the damaged vehicle policy remains. Teams will not be able to add new parts to the car during a race.

While NASCAR typically doesn’t create rule changes during the playoffs, Xfinity teams will run twice in the playoffs with the composite body.

“We looked at different models to roll this out, preferably in 2017,’’ Auton said. “Number one, we wanted to get it on the racetrack.  We’ve worked for a year to get the body finalized. We’re at the point now that teams are putting race cars together. They’re getting to do some aero testing with them. 

“So we feel confident that whenever they go into these three races …  that you won’t see a significant difference in the competition. We think it’ll bring the competition closer together, and that was just a collaborative effort of the teams on the type of racetrack that we wanted to start them on, and working with our third‑party vendor of when parts could be ready for teams.’’

For those teams that choose the steel body instead of the composite body at Richmond, Dover and Phoenix, they’ll face significant challenges.

“There will be competition restrictions on the steel body versus the flange fit,’’ Bodine said. “Obviously we want the flange fit to be the body of the future and phase out the steel body. There will be weight and aero differences between the two to make sure that the flange fit body has a competitive advantage.’’

The Xfinity Rule Book notes the difference in weight between the two car body styles. A composite body car with a driver who weighs between 130-139 pounds can have a minimum total combined weight for the driver and car of 3,540-3,549 pounds. That will be about 90 pounds lighter than a the minimum combined weight for a car and a similar driver in a steel body vehicle.

Another advantage that Bodine touts is the potential savings teams could experience as they use the composite body more.

“The efficiencies of using a composite flange fit body really are across the board from potentially needing less chassis to do the Xfinity Series because of the turnaround time on repairs, to the actual amount of time it takes to hang a complete new body on a chassis,’’ Bodine said. “The repairs most likely can be done by the team instead of potentially having to farm it out to a body hanger that they do business with now with the steel bodies. There’s a lot of areas that this cost savings of this type body will provide for the team owners.’’

 and on Facebook

Ryan: NASCAR’s stunning decision on drafting package sends some conflicting messages

Leave a comment

It’s coming to save the Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway!

It’s coming to solve the strung-out, single-file conundrum at 1.5-mile speedways!

It’s coming to strengthen the underdog teams and give them a better chance at winning!

Actually, it’s not coming at all (at least not this season).

Huh?

That was the feeling for many Thursday morning when NASCAR punted the All-Star Race aero and horsepower rules (or “drafting package”) – after a month of incessant hints and indications that it would be used at least twice more during the regular season (at Michigan International Speedway and Indy).

Track owners supported it. NASCAR officials supported it. Even some team owners supported it.

Drivers were less supportive.

The pushback from some high-profile stars isn’t what killed the drafting package, though.

This was a startling and abrupt about-face because NASCAR couldn’t secure the necessary buy-in from team owners, who essentially have veto power on major competition decisions such as this one because of the charter system implemented in 2016.

NASCAR chief racing development officer and senior vice president of competition Steve O’Donnell said the critically acclaimed All-Star Race proved the drafting package was “something that could work … but in the end, we all felt like the best thing to do was to put some additional effort into some potential tweaks and focus on 2019 vs. a race or two this season.”

A NASCAR.com story described the hopes of using the drafting package again as a “Herculean undertaking” and “one that could have resulted in a rushed output.”

Actually, rushing has produced some decent results before.

NASCAR announced a lower-downforce rules package barely a month ahead of a July 11, 2015 race at Kentucky Speedway, and the race was wildly successful.

This was less about a time crunch and more about cash flow.

Teams always can adapt to the rules in front of them. But the best also will adapt by busting their budgets to optimize their cars, and that prompts a difficult question.

Are the changes worth it?

Even if the quality of racing (which is mostly subjective) improves, the majority of teams didn’t view the drafting package as a valid investment, particularly if attendance remains flat (and if more tickets are sold, the tracks still reap the rewards).

Millions were spent developing and optimizing competitive cars for a new inspection system this season.

Is it fair to say “too bad about all that R&D work” and change on the fly?

There also is an eye-of-the-beholder argument. Though Kevin Harvick won the All-Star Race and Kyle Busch led 19 laps and contended, would Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing approve a change to the rules that have allowed their champion drivers to dominate the 2018 season?

And as shown by the low-downforce package, whose luster faded after that smashing debut at Kentucky, the teams with the deepest pockets will burn money in wind tunnels to figure out the package and undermine its efficacy without compunction.

Privately, many team owners are tired of “fixing” the racing and want a greater emphasis on marketing and promoting NASCAR rather than trying to retrofit the competition (which has seemed a mostly pyrrhic exercise for the past decade).

So, is there any common ground?

Well …

“Everyone is aligned on doing what’s best for the fans,” O’Donnell said.

That might be true, but there’s an obvious lack of alignment on how to achieve what’s best for the fans.

For all the platitudes tossed around about the spirit of collaboration and cooperation with councils and committees of drivers, manufacturers and team owners, it’s clear the NASCAR industry isn’t on the same page with some critical topics – namely, on the usage of the drafting package.

Mixed messages aren’t new in NASCAR, a sanctioning body that once leaned on its stars to speak their minds while also fining them for having opinions.

But mixed messages color every part of the decision on the drafting package, which had become a daily topic of uplifting SiriusXM satellite radio discussion for gleeful fans.

–NASCAR spent the better part of the past month mulling the new rules — presumably because it wanted to upgrade its racing … but now it also will claim (according to O’Donnell in the NASCAR.com story) that “we’re really happy with the racing on track.”

–After the juxtaposition at 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway of the drafting package at the All-Star Race (38 green-flag lead changes, up from zero last season) with the current rules a week later at the Coca-Cola 600 (which had single-digit lead changes for the second time in three years ), the latter package now will be used at two 1.5-mile tracks in the next three weeks.

–The Cup Series racing at Indianapolis, the track whose action is most frequently identified as needing major improvements, will remain the same for a Sept. 16 regular-season finale that might feature a record number of playoff spots up for grabs on points. A day earlier, the Xfinity Series race at the Brickyard will feature the same drafting package that was a hit last year on the 2.5-mile oval infamous for monotonous stock-car races with a lack of passing.

Does that seem hard to reconcile? That’s the problem with mixed messages.

The most consistent message delivered Thursday?

Say hello to the status quo for the rest of the 2018 season.

Maybe the news wasn’t so surprising after all.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Cup not using All-Star package again in 2018

NBC Sports
Leave a comment

Today’s NASCAR America airs from 5-5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and leads into the debut episode of the Dale Jr Download at 5:30 p.m. ET.

Carolyn Manno hosts today’s NASCAR America from Stamford, Connecticut, and is joined by Steve Letarte from Burton’s Garage.

On today’s show:

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Sonoma in last three years

Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The last nine races at Sonoma have been won by a different driver each time. Only one driver enters the weekend with back-to-back top-fives on this track and three others have consecutive top 10s. Given the importance of strategy and track position, repeating at this track is incredibly difficult.

Those stats should predict a fresh face in Victory Lane, right?

Unfortunately a brief glance at the drivers with the best average finishes over the past three years reveals that the two dominators of 2018 – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch – head up the list. If a fantasy player thought this was going to be a good week to vary their NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster, it’s time to rethink that position.

There are a couple of surprises among recent top performers, but the cream tends to rise to the top of NASCAR events. Anchor this week’s team with solid marquee drivers and use dark horses as a way to differentiate those selections from the competition.

1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.67)
Harvick won last year’s edition of this race, but it is not the first time he has run well at Sonoma. He finished fourth in 2015 and was sixth the following year. Making those runs even more impressive is the fact that he has started outside the top 10 in each event and had to drive his way through the field.

2. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 4.33)
Along with Harvick, Busch is the only other driver with a current three-race streak of top 10s at Sonoma. He won there in 2015, followed by a seventh and fifth in his last two outings. He may be a better value than Harvick this week, however, because he has an equally impressive record at Watkins Glen International with a second in 2015, a sixth in 2016 and a seventh last year.

3. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 6.33)
It has been three years since Busch scored a top five at Sonoma, but what he lacks in raw power is made up for in consistency. In his last seven attempts on this track, he has finished outside the top 10 only once and that was a 12th in 2014. He won on this track in 2011 and finished second in 2015.

4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 6.67)
It appeared Logano had found the handle on this track. He scored his first top five in 2015 when he crossed under the checkers fifth. That was followed by a third in 2016. Last year was difficult for the driver of the No. 22; he qualified poorly in 18th and managed to climb only to 12th at the checkers.

5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.00)
Sometimes a switch seems to flip for a driver on a given track. That is what happened to Hamlin in 2016 when he was on his way to Victory Lane before contact from Tony Stewart in the final corner. He hung on to finish second – snapping a six-race streak of results outside the top 15 – and backed that up with a fourth last year.

6. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 10.67)
Newman’s consistency has aided in his making the top 10 list a few times this year and the same is true at Sonoma. Without a top five to his credit in the past five years, he has swept the top 15. That makes him a good utilitarian pick. He will probably not score maximum points, but is also unlikely to lose a lot at Sonoma.

6. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 10.67)
There are so many different things that can go wrong on a road course and Johnson has had too many disappointments in 2018 to make him a fantasy favorite. Sonoma and Watkins Glen reward skill behind the wheel over raw horsepower and handling, however, so there is still a chance that he could earn a top five if the team is mistake-free.

8. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 12.33)
Keselowski makes the top-10 list despite having a 19th-place finish in his three-year average. That indicates just how difficult it is to sustain momentum on road courses given the various strategies that play out in a given race. The good news for Keselowski fans is that he finally earned his first career top five in eight starts last year with a third.

9. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 12.67)
McMurray has been consistent recently at Sonoma, but that is a fairly new trait. In his first 12 starts on this track, he had two top fives and no other top 10s. His average finish before 2015 was 16.7 despite finishing fourth in the 2014 race. He was 11th in 2015, 17th in 2016, and 10th last year – so he could be a good value if he practices and qualifies well this weekend.

10. Paul Menard (three-year average: 13.33)
Some of Menard’s earliest racing experience came in the Trans-Am series and that seems to have stuck with him. While he barely makes the top-10 list this week, he is perhaps the most consistent driver in recent years with four results of 11th through 16th in the last five races. Now that Team Penske is supporting his effort with the Wood Brothers, he should easily contend for a top 10.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: This is a good week to go out on a limb where the pole sitter is concerned. McMurray has won two of the last five poles on this track, while his teammate Kyle Larson took the top spot last year. Two JTG-Daugherty Racing drivers also have recent poles with Marcos Ambrose securing one in 2012 and AJ Allmendinger leading the field to green in 2015.

Segment Winners: There is absolutely no way to determine who is going to take the segment wins this week because it will all come down to strategy at the close of each stage. Since Harvick and Kyle Busch have scored the most segment wins, however, you may as well keep riding that momentum.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Dale Jr. Download debuts today at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Dale Jr Download podcast with Dale Earnhardt Jr. comes to TV beginning today. The show debuts at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, following NASCAR America.

“Dale Jr. Download” will air every Thursday the rest of the season after NASCAR America.

The 30-minute show will provide a condensed version of the Dirty Mo Radio podcast that is found online and features Earnhardt, NBC Sports’ newest NASCAR analyst, with Mike Davis and Matthew Dillner.

“Our approach with the TV show will be no different than our approach with the podcast – buddies hanging out, talking racing, sharing life stories, and telling jokes that may or may not be funny only to us,” Earnhardt said. “I’m having a lot of fun with the podcast, and we are excited to be bringing it to TV. If we have a guest join us, it’s only because they’re relevant to whatever has my attention that week. It could be a NASCAR driver, or it could be my plumber – depends on who’s more important to me that week. The Download is as transparent as I can be when it comes to my life and thoughts.”